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Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Rules

daimyodesign:

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

1. FINISH IT

Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE

Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY

This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE

Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

5. CUT WHAT YOU LOVE

Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.

6. LISTEN

When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.

7. TRACK THE AUDIENCE MOOD

You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.

8. WRITE LIKE A MOVIE

Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’

9. DON’T LISTEN

Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.

10. DON’T SELL OUT

The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.

(via celtx)

Filed under writing script writing screenwriting scripts script writer joss whedon advice screenplay script frenzy screnzy

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The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes. 
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different. 
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. 
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___. 
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. 
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal? 
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. 
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. 
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up. 
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. 
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. 
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself. 
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience. 
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. 
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations. 
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against. 
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later. 
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining. 
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating. 
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like? 
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way? 
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

-The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar

(via wordscount)

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Script Frenzy-do I want to go it alone?

nanowrimos:

One of the great things about Script Frenzy is that you have the option to work with a partner, or go it alone. Either of these options is valid, and there’s nothing wrong with either of them. The hard part is understanding which is right for you.

Reasons to write with (a) partner(s)

  • You are confident in your skills but don’t have an idea,
  • Or you have a great idea but don’t feel confident in your writing skills.
  • You don’t have enough time to commit fully to the project.
  • You enjoy collaboration and work well with others.
  • You find it easier to brainstorm your ideas with other people.
  • You and a friend have a project that you’ve talked about doing forever and it’s a good excuse to get started.

Reasons to say no to (a) partner(s)

  • You have the time to devote to finishing it by yourself.
  • You might have a hard time working with others.
  • You don’t like sharing credit with anyone else.
  • You like the idea of challenging yourself personally.
  • You already have your ideas all together and are confident in your ability to pull it together.

(Source: writrs)

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Why not adapt a novel or short story into a script?

It’s hard to deny the lure of the adaptation. Taking existing content that you already know works and adapting it as a script seems so much faster than writing something from scratch. An adaptation also makes your job that much easier when it comes to promotion. If your source material already has fans, they’ll seek out your content on the strength of the original name even if they’ve never heard of you. Sounds great, right?

Nearly all adaptations can be boiled down into two types:

  • Format shifts: Taking a movie, short story, novel, life story, video game, comic book, etc… and converting it into a script. (“Based on the bestselling novel…”)
  • Reboots: Taking an existing script and adding your own twist, such as modernization, style changes , etc. (“It’s Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet… but with zombies!”)

But writing an adaptation comes with its own host of writing challenges. Here are 5 things you should consider if you’re thinking of tackling an adaptation:

Keep reading…

Filed under script frenzy screnzy adaptation adapt script writing writing writer scripts script

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What's being a screenwriter really like? [Video]

What’s being a screenwriter *really* like? Oscar nominated and winning screenwriters bust misconceptions and share what being a working screenwriting is really like.

The misconceptions of being a screenwriter.

Screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Dick Clement, Brian Helgeland, John August, Callie Khouri, Billy Ray, Scott Frank, Marc Norman, Phil Alden Robinson, Ted Griffin and Robin Swicord discuss some of the misconceptions of being screenwriters.

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Script Frenzy Comes to Scriptchat!

Script Frenzy Comes to Scriptchat!

Need motivation to get a script written… in 30 days? If you think Twitter #writingsprints are miraculous, wait until you try Script Frenzy!
This Sunday (March 18th, 2012), USA & EURO chats have guests Sandra Salas and Grant Faulkner of Script Frenzy. Come learn all the tricks and benefits of surviving the 100-page-script-in-30-days challenge!

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